If I Can Make It There

Standard

Train

It was my understanding, upon moving to Ipswich, that I could “go all the way.” By train, that is. To New York City, I mean.

This seemed too good to be true, however; and indeed, I found that it wasn’t quite as simple as getting on a train and going all the way to New York. This fact became clear shortly after I finally found the website of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, generally referred to as the “MBTA.” (For several months I didn’t understand what “MBTA” was; I thought perhaps people were saying a French word, “embitiez,” except that “embitiez” isn’t French for anything.)

I quickly discovered that, here in coastal Massachusetts, the train is not necessarily “the train.” The MBTA website has “Rider Tools,” including a “Trip Planner,” which will help you navigate between commuter rail, subway, bus, and boat. Boat! I’ve never lived close to the ocean before, but I am pretty sure that a boat is not a train.

The MBTA website is where I learned that Ipswich is on something called the Newburyport/Rockport Line, and if you catch the commuter rail at Ipswich Station heading toward Boston, you’ve made a good start. But you can’t just stay on the train and get off at New York. You can only stay on the train till you get barely inside Boston. At North Station, they make you get off. Unfortunately, the train that goes on to New York does not leave from North Station. It leaves from South Station. So you need to get from North Station to South Station.

These two stations are less than a mile and a half from each other, so it should be simple. According to Google Earth, you can walk. Take Canal Street down to Federal Street, cut across to Congress Street, past City Hall, past (ironically) the First National Bank of Ipswich (at State Street, on your right), past Jayne’s Flower Shop (at Franklin, on your left; promotional fee paid), passing a total of 14 Starbucks and 96 Dunkin’ Donuts, and 25 minutes later, you’re there.

But no, I was on a quest. I wanted to stay on the train. Come on, gimme the train that runs from North Station to South Station. Imagine my surprise, then, encountering the shocking truth: In 384 years of existence, with one of the oldest railway systems in America, and 394 miles of rail lines, the City of Boston has never put in the 7,392 feet of track it would take to connect North Station directly to South Station.

The solution, for travelers like me, turns out to be the subway, the beloved “T.” In my studies, I discovered that the T is not necessarily simple, but it does come in a number of pleasant colors: the northerly-southwesterly Orange Line, the southerly-northwesterly Red Line, the dashing easterly Silver Line, the northeasterly Blue Line (which I want to take simply because it winds up at “Wonderland”), and the venerable granddaddy of the system, the westerly Green Line.

To get from North Station to South Station? No problem. You have choices. You can take the Orange Line to Downtown Crossing, then change to the Red Line for South Station. Or you can take the Green Line to Park Street, then change to the Red Line. (Amtrak officially recommends, if you have luggage or children in tow, just forget the train thing and take a taxi. When a railroad service warns you against taking the train, you gotta pay heed.)

Finally, however, by some means or another, you are likely to wind up at South Station, where you can get on a train bound for New York City, and in something like four hours, you’re supposed to be there.

So, last week, this was my plan. I arranged to be dropped off at Ipswich Station, and my adventure began. (Ipswich Station is a thrill in and of itself, a visually exciting ridged metal roof suspended at a daring angle over a series of artsy benches mounted on world-class concrete.)

The train came.

I climbed on. It was something of a rush, I confess.

I found a seat. I looked out the window with a deep-down sense of satisfaction.

Soon the conductor was calling out the next stop.

“Rowley!”

How curious.

I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I could have sworn that Rowley was north of Ipswich, as opposed to, say, New York, which is, for example, south of Ipswich.

The most important lesson I learned on this trip is that when you’re waiting for a train at Ipswich Station, you’re facing west. So if you want to get from Ipswich to New York by train, you have to get on a train that goes from right to left. Not left to right. The train going left to right is going to Newburyport.

The second most important lesson I learned on this trip is that it takes 14 minutes to get to Newburyport, and once you’re there, it takes 16 minutes for the train to start back again. And another 14 minutes to get back to Ipswich.

In other words, it takes 44 minutes to go nowhere.

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2 thoughts on “If I Can Make It There

  1. The train ride from Ipswich to Newburyport and back is _great_ for sightseeing. The train tracks (built where it would never be environmentally allowed these days) give you a view of the marshes you can’t get any other way. – – – I believe (but don’t quote me on this) you could go all the way from Maine to South Carolina by train except for that pesky gap between North Station and South Station. It’s not well-known any place else, because every time somebody tries to tell an out-of-towner, they just get “that’s ludicrous! stop pulling my leg”.

  2. Yes, and MacAlpine tells me you can now actually get all the way from Maine to Florida except for the Boston gap! I don’t know if he has documentation for this, but anyway, the gap is bizarre. Maybe its real purpose is to proclaim to the world, we Bostonians love the T!

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